Text: Luke 8:4-15
Last week we began our walk with our Lord to His cross and resurrection. Last Sunday, along with this and next Sunday, forms its own little season in the Church Year called, “Pre-Lent.” I shared last week that one seminary professor said that Pre-Lent is like packing your bags to go on on a journey – in this case, Lent. In this short season, we’re “packing our bags,” by being reminded of three central teachings of our faith, which we know as the Three Solas of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone.
The Gospel reading last week was from Matthew 20 about the laborers in the vineyard. Though the laborers were called at different points in the day, at the end of the day they all received the same wage – for their master chose to be generous and give to the last hired as he did to the first. This text teaches us how our God is toward us. He does not reward the forgiveness of sins to those who earn it, nor does He give it in exchange for something in us. Instead, God forgives us all our sins freely, by His grace, as a gift. Our text this week teaches us about the power of God’s Word. Wherever His Word is preached and received in faith it bears fruit a hundredfold in the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life.
With the parable this week, our Lord gives us an answer to that hard question: why some and not others? If God is so loving and abundant in His grace, why isn’t everyone a Christian? Further, why it also our experience that many who – by His grace – begin their lives in the faith yet – to borrow St. Paul’s language from last week – don’t run to complete the race? As we’ll see, the fault is not with God’s call through the Word. He said through Isaiah, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout…giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty.” If the fault is not with God’s Word, then, there must be something else going on.
The occasion of our text this week is, St. Luke reports, that “a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to [Jesus].” Our text is earlier in our Lord’s ministry, but not so early that people haven’t heard about Him. The Sermon on the Mount has happened already, and St. Luke wrote as far back as chapter 4 that reports about Jesus had gone out into all the surrounding regions. People from town after town were coming out to hear Jesus, but not all of them would stick around. Over the course of the Gospel, many of them would take offense at Jesus’ teaching and fall away; when they came to arrest our Lord, even the Disciples left Him alone. Jesus explains all this with a parable.
St. Luke writes,
When a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to Him, He said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.”
Our Lord is gracious and provides us with the interpretation of this parable – which is not something He always does. He said, “The seed is the Word of God.” Perhaps our Lord had the preaching of Isaiah in His mind as He taught this; St. Paul, likewise, when he wrote to the Romans that “faith comes from hearing…the word of Christ.” God the Holy Spirit creates faith in human hearts through the external preaching of the Word. As He has sent His Word into all the world, so also, in the parable the sower casts the seed far and wide.
The seed is broadcast, and some of it falls along the path, Jesus said. This represents those who hear the Word of God, but before they can believe it and receive salvation, the devil snatches it from them. There are many ways he does this, and we often see it happen through violence and false religions. The devil uses these to rob people of belief in Christ or otherwise prevent them from believing at all. The devil is also working on the other seeds: those that fall on the rock and those that fall among the thorns. Those that fall upon the rock, Jesus said, are those who receive His Word with joy and believe for a while, “and in a time of testing fall away.” Said another way, those that fall upon the rock are those Christians who, when it becomes difficult to be a Christian, fall away. In our time this usually takes one of two forms – a complete separation from the faith, or one alters their beliefs to be in line with current society – which often results later in a total loss of faith.
The seed that falls among the thorns, are those who also initially receive the Word with joy. They hear it and go on their journey of life, but something happens. Jesus said, “as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Unfortunately, many of us have witnessed this. Happiness and wealth, and to an extent – and properly understood -, worry, are gifts of God. But, the Old Adam that still claws away within us likes to take what God gives and replace Him with it. And, that temptation, we all feel because we are all in the flesh. The seed of God’s Word is cast far and wide, but in many cases it is choked out by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.
I don’t believe Jesus is telling the parable to frighten us, though. He uses it to teach and comfort us. Hear, again, the last part of the parable: “some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” Jesus explained this saying, “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” Through Isaiah in the words we heard today and through St. Paul, also, Jesus teaches us that His Word works. It creates faith in the hearts of those who hear it and bears fruit a hundredfold – the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
When we hear God’s Word and, by His grace, receive it in faith, we can be sure that we have the forgiveness of our sins. Having the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ also leads us to remain connected to Him by remaining in His Word and receiving His Sacraments frequently. That is what it means to hold things fast in an honest and good heart. Through the Word and the Sacraments, the Lord keeps and strengthens us in the faith so that we abound in works love and, as Jesus said, “bear fruit with patience.”
It is difficult to see how many around us in the world don’t believe and witness others believe for a time and then fall away. Yet, we do have this comfort: God’s Word works. He casts it far and wide and has even given it to us. By His grace, we have received His Word in faith and have been saved. Our sins are forgiven, and we have eternal life. The Word has borne fruit in us a hundredfold. We pray this week that the Holy Spirit would continue to grant us His grace that we might hold His Word fast, and be patiently bearing good fruits, until our Lord comes to take us to our eternal home.